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Nation mourned Wilbur Wright

Published May 26. 2012 09:02AM

Local residents were stunned to hear news of the death of Wilbur Wright after the aviation pioneer fell ill on a business trip to Boston in April, 1912.

After returning to Dayton, he was diagnosed with typhoid fever. He lingered in and out of consciousness for several weeks before his death in the Wright family home on May 30.

His father Milton noted Wilbur's death in a diary addition: "A short life, full of consequences. An unfailing intellect, imperturbable temper, great self-reliance and as great modesty, seeing the right clearly, pursuing it steadfastly, he lived and died."

Tributes poured in, including a message from President William Howard Taft, who wrote: "I am sorry that the father of the great new science of aeronautics is dead, and that he has not been permitted to see the wonderful development that is sure to follow along the primary lines which he laid down. He deserves to stand with Fulton, Stephenson and Bell."

A Tamaqua Courier article also reflected on the Wright Brothers' early life.

"In the great complicated machine of American business, the young man commonly feels that the prizes are all awarded and there is nothing left for him but to keep grinding away," the writer said. "So perhaps thought Wilbur Wright, who has now passed away after a record of achievement ranking with the great scientific discoveries, in the days when his brother and he were digging obscurely away in a dingy little bicycle shop in the outskirts of Dayton."

He noted how the Wright brothers had a personal drive, which set them apart from thousands of other young men who were repairing automobiles and bicycles.

"Of course they must have possessed a scientific imagination with which the ordinary mechanic is not gifted," he explained. "But such an imagination would have accomplished nothing, had it not been accompanied by powers of concentration and observation that every young man may display if he will. If displayed, these powers will win any one a substantial position in life."

He noted that while their young friends were spending "idle hours" in less challenging pursuits, Orville and Wilbur would lie on their backs on the hillsides of Dayton, studying the motions of the buzzards circling over their heads or watching the flight of birds through the windows of their little shop.

"They learned early that they must go beyond anything written in books," the writer stated.

He said that when they made their experiments in gliding 10 years earlier in North Carolina, they found that the tables computed by scientists concerning air pressure were wrong and therefore had to refigure the formulas.

The writer described the brothers as "old fashioned type of men who always carried a foot rule and a pair of calipers in their pockets, and were always interested in problem-solving.

"The field for success in mechanical pursuits was never so great as today," the writer stated. "But success is won only by those who become interested to study the reason why of every machine and every process, and the way to make it better."

As a youth, Wilbur had his sights set on studying for the ministry at Yale but a facial injury suffered while playing hockey short-circuited those plans. For three years after the injury, he studied informally by reading books in his father's extensive library.

The Tamaqua Courier carried numerous stories about the Wright Brothers' exploits during the first decade of the 20th century. In an article on June 22, 1910, a Courier writer explained how the flying craze had gripped the area.

"Aeroplanitis has gripped residents of this section of the state and while none has as yet sailed the vast seas of the sky in this vicinity, people may expect almost any day to see three or four mysterious-looking machines cavorting about in the upper currents for there are five now under course of construction, one or two of which are ready for launching," he stated.

The year 1909 was a big one for the Wright brothers. They received the congressional medal for their service in the field of aerial navigation and in June of that year, they conducted trial flights at Fort Meyer, Va., for the U.S. government.

At the time, Kenneth Kintzel, a Tamaqua native, was serving as a first-class electrician for the Aeroplane Department of the U.S. Army Signal Corps stationed at College Park, Md. During the Fort Meyer testing, he tended to Wilbur Wright's plane.

Both Wright brothers were extremely close and complimented each other well. Wilbur was said to be more steady in his habits, more mature in his judgments, and more likely to see a project through while Orville was the enthusiastic one who was full of ideas.

Wilbur's death left Orville feeling depressed and alone. In 1915 he sold his rights to the American Wright Company and returned to experimental work.

Without Wilbur, he lost his enthusiasm for business life but he did outlive his brother by 36 years. Orville, the more impulsive but also the shyest of the siblings, died of heart failure in 1948 at the age of 76.

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